Colton Greene, whose antecedents
are unknown, was born in 1832 in South Carolina.1Before 1857 he had moved to St.
Louis, Missouri, and had become active in Democratic party politics. By 1860 he
was a successful merchant of St. Louis, a partner in a wholesale grocery
Active in the secessionist movement in that city, Greene was one of the organizers of the pro-southern "minutemen," who planned to seize the city and its arsenal. In the spring of 1861 he became a member of Governor Claiborne Jackson's secret strategy board, which coordinated Missouri secessionists. In April, 1861, the governor sent Greene to President Davis to obtain cannon to use in an attack on the St. Louis federal arsenal. Greene succeeded in his mission, but the cannon arrived too late. The cannon, and a brigade of Missouri militia intending to seize the arsenal, were captured by Federal troops. Greene joined the governor at Jefferson City and helped drill the eager pro-southern recruits who now flocked to the capital. That summer the governor sent Greene on confidential missions to Richmond and Arkansas to drum up support for a Confederate invasion of Missouri. At the August 10 Battle of Wilson's Creek Greene served on the staff of Brigadier General James McBride, 7th Military District commander. On October 28, 1861, the governor commissioned Greene colonel and assistant adjutant general of the 7th District. In the spring of 1862 McBride, ill and dissatisfied, resigned, and Greene, as colonel, took over the 7th Division, which he re-formed into a two-regiment brigade of volunteers. Greene led this brigade at the March 7 and 8, 1862, Battle of Pea Ridge. A very capable officer ("no braver or better officer ever drew a sword"), Greene followed Sterling Price's Missouri army to Mississippi. In the summer of 1862 he received permission to return to Missouri to recruit a regiment of cavalry. Greene raised the 3rd Missouri Cavalry, of which (on November 4, 1862) he was appointed colonel. Greene spent the rest of the war as colonel of the 3rd. He led Brigadier General Marmaduke's Missouri cavalry brigade (of which the 3rd was apart) at the July 4, 1863, Battle of Helena and in the 1864 Camden expedition. Noted as a disciplinarian, Greene won the confidence of the brigade with his leadership at the Battles of Poison Spring and Jenkins' Ferry, among other engagements. In the summer of 1864 Greene was put on trial for allegedly refusing to have his men turn over their mules to the government, but a court-martial exonerated him of all charges that fall. Perhaps because of Greene's legal troubles, in August, 1864, Brigadier General John B. Clark was transferred from an infantry brigade and took over Marmaduke's brigade. Greene resumed command of the 3rd, which he led during Price's 1864 Missouri Raid. The 3rd shared in the general rout of Price's army during the raid. After the raid Clark was elevated to divisional command, and Greene once again took over the brigade.
During the war Greene's business and property in St. Louis were seized by his business partner, Stephen Hoyt (a staunch Unionist and mayor of occupied New Orleans) and others. With the end of the war the now-impoverished Greene relocated in Memphis, where "General" Greene, as he was known, became an active banker, insurance agent, and civic leader. He worked for the Memphis branch of the Knickerbocker Life Insurance Company of New York. In 1871 Greene established his own firm and prospered. He founded the State Savings Bank of Memphis, led a successful movement to construct a municipal waterworks, and organized the highly successful Memphis Mardi Gras. One source states that Greene was known as the "elegant Gen. Colton Greene, 'a gallant and conspicuous figure,' who because of his extensive European travel and command of languages had become the social arbiter (of Memphis).. . . Handsome and charming as he was, he never married, he never divulged anything about his origin except that he was born in S.C.—a mystery still talked about in Memphis." A savant and a prominent society figure, he was instrumental in founding the Memphis Public Library. General Greene died in Memphis on September 23, 1900, and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Greene is listed as a general by Wright, SHSP, Heitman, and CV. Although he often commanded a brigade, the OR show him as colonel as late as December 31, 1864, and a dispatch calls him colonel as late as May 24, 1865. On March 27, 1865, Governor Reynolds of Missouri (who had known Greene before he war) wrote General Kirby Smith asking for Colonel Greene's promotion.5 Petitions for Greene's promotion to general in 1865 were signed by practically all the officers in the Trans-Mississippi army. However, the OR show no indication of any promotion by either President Davis or General Kirby Smith.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.